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  • Writer's pictureLianne van der Walt

The High Ground is a Lonely Place


On an icy cold winter’s day when the brilliant blue sky stretched for as far as the eye could see, I made my way to the very top of Australia’s oldest mainland and most significant lighthouse. Built in 1848, the Cape Otway lighthouse stands anchored fast into the towering cliffs 90m above where the Bass strait and the Southern Ocean collide. This beacon of light has for over 172 years lit the way for many a weary sailor along this dangerous coast. For thousands of 19th Century immigrants, this was their first sight of land after leaving Europe, Asia and North America many months prior and become known as ‘The Beacon of Hope.’ With nothing in front of me other than wide open sea and the odd circling seagull – I felt strangely alone as the icy winds blew in from the Antarctic.


“No man is an island’ ~ John Donne

A visit to the beautifully restored lighthouse family home gave us insight into the hardships and conditions of living such an isolated existence at the time. Our guide told us a story about one particular family which reminded me of just how important it is to have empathy and a willingness to consider different points of view. The wife of the lighthouse keeper and that of his assistant had fallen out over an issue and for 30 years chose never to speak to one another again. At a time when the only other contact you had was with the arrival of a provisions ship twice a year – it seems almost incomprehensible that an inability or lack of willingness to try and understand one another could have such a devastating and long-lasting effect on both the families involved.

We were intrigued by this story, but it was only after the arrival of Covoid-19 and social distancing that we could imagine what this isolation must have felt like. Most of us have never been forced into a position where we have had to socially isolate. Suddenly, we realise how important we are to each other, the many different ways in which we touch each other’s lives every day and which we take for granted. It is time to think about how we treat each other and consider the possibility that we may not always be right about what we believe to be true.

‘If you have to choose between being kind or being right, choose being kind and you will always be right’

So much of our behaviour depends on the stories we choose to tell ourselves, the things we believe to be true. When faced with other people’s conflicting perspectives, opinions or beliefs – are we able to listen with empathy and without immediately feeling compromised and threatened? Resorting to blame and denial and passing judgement allows us to justify our own position but does nothing towards improving a difficult situation.

Next time you find yourself in a position where a conflict has arisen, think about doing the following:

  • Take a moment to truly listen. Listening is the key to healing. When you pause to listen to what is being said, you create space for change, room in which to move and an opportunity to shift position in order to see things differently. You can change your mind. Listening becomes the bridge when we find ourselves worlds apart.

  • Take a good look at the stories you tell yourself; they will affect your behaviour. Ask the question – ‘Are they true or just my interpretation of the facts?’

  • Think about what the world could look like from someone else’s point of view. Their experiences are different to yours. This is what having empathy means.

  • Things are rarely black or white, most times they exist in the grey area in between.

  • Being flexible allows you to change your mind.

Taking to the high ground can become a very lonely place and what is the point of being right if you land up alone? Listen with empathy and keep an open mind as you may want to reconsider your position. You do not always have to be right to have the right outcome.


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